Fighting the Heat – Chicago Urges Citizens Not to Open Fire Hydrants

Water hydrantYou’ve seen the image before. A hot summer day, everyone sweating, and a fire hydrant is opened up. Water goes everywhere and kids scream in delight. While we all view that as classic summer fun, a recent article in the New York Times suggests that the city of Chicago isn’t eager to join in on the fun because opening up a fire hydrant is illegal. And now the city is looking for way to crack down on it.

Chicago has been going through a heat wave recently, with heat indexes climbing up to 108 degrees on some days. The city has taken issue with the opening of fire hydrants because it affects the way the Chicago Fire Department operates and how it extinguishes fires. Chicago’s Department of Water Management released a few figures that have the city worried. Over 18,000 fire hydrants were opened illegally in 2010 and open fire hydrants lose nearly 34,000 gallons of water per hour. The resulting total damage adds up to “hundreds of thousands of dollars” every year as well as low water pressure for several citizens.

Alternatives to opening fire hydrants have been offered, including by Alderman Edward Burke of the 14th Ward. His plan involves a new bill that calls for the opening of water recreational facilities, such as pools and spray parks, though locals are unconvinced that these facilities will ever be opened. Not to mention that the cost of a full water park has a price tag of $400,000.

Alderman Robert Maldonado of the 26th Ward of Chicago supports Burke’s new bill. But he also has reservations that echoes the complaint many in the community have. “It’s a tradition of decades and decades and decades to open up those fire hydrants,” argues Maldonado.

It’s a tough decision for city planners and officials to make. Opening fire hydrants is part of the city’s colorful history and one of the more fruitful methods for combating growing heat problems. But it’s also a costly expenditure for the city and its citizens, and alternatives like Burke’s water facility bill may hopefully offer the compromise many are seeking.